Miriam Makeba talks about racism, white supremacy and liberation during her visit to Finland in 1969.
Miriam Makeba talks about racism, white supremacy and liberation during her visit to Finland in 1969.
From the record Charles Mingus Presents C.M., recorded 20 October, 1960at Nola Penthouse Sound Studios, New York, with the wild Eric Dolphy on alto/bass clarinet, Danny Richmond on drums, and Ted Curson on trumpet.
“Fear and debt. The two most powerful tools of empire.”
– John Perkins
Pick an old photograph of you. Go back and look what was happening in the world around the time it was taken.
1 September 1984
It was a Saturday. The US president was Ronald Reagan. The UK Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher. In that week of September people in US were listening to “What’s Love Got To Do With It” by Tina Turner. In the UK “Careless Whisper” by George Michael was in the top 5 hits. Amadeus, directed by Milos Forman, was one of the most viewed movies released in 1984 while First Among Equals by Jeffrey Archer was one of the best selling books. (From HERE).
In South Africa, on 3 September 1984, the day the new constitution creating the tri-cameral parliament became effective, and the day upon which the first executive state president took the oath of office, the Vaal exploded and unrest and rioting spread countrywide. Read more HERE.
From SA History Online:
12 July, A car bomb explosion in Durban, Natal, kills five and injures twenty-six.
13 July, The last all white Parliament ends its last session in Cape Town.
16 July, Supreme Court Act No 2: Provided for the separation of the Ciskei judiciary from South Africa. Commenced: 16 July 1984
27 July, Republic of Ciskei Constitution Amendment Act No 10: Removed the post of VicePresident. Commenced: 27 July 1984
30 July, Campaigning for the new tricameral Parliament begins.
30 July, South Africa has held up supplies of British weapons to Lesotho and the UK has complained several times about the delays, officials said today. South Africa has decided to close its Consulate in Wellington instead of waiting for New Zealand’s new Government to carry out its pledge to shut down, New Zealand’s Prime Minister David Lange said.
August, Elections for Coloured and Indian Chambers of Parliament.
August, Boycotts and demonstrations in schools affected about 7% of the school population. In August demonstrations affected 800 000 school children.
7 August-9 August, Conference of Arab Solidarity with the Struggle for Liberation in Southern Africa, organised by the Special Committee against Apartheid, in cooperation with the League of Arab States.
8 August, The government is to grant self government to KaNgwane. This is seen as confirmation that it has finally abandoned its land deal with Swaziland, of which KaNgwane was to have been a part.
14 August, Lesotho rejects South Africa’s proposal for a draft security treaty.
16 August, An explosion, believed to have been caused by a bomb, ripped through police offices near Johannesburg today, a police spokesman said.
17 August, The UN Security Council rejected and declared null and void the new racist constitution of South Africa. It urged governments and organisations not to accord recognition to the “elections“ under that constitution. (Resolution 554)
22 August, Elections to the House of Representatives among the Coloured community show overwhelming support for the Labour Party. Official results record only a 30.9 per cent turn out and protests and boycotts are followed by 152 arrests.
28 August, Elections to the House of Delegates among the Indian community are marked by a low poll, protests, boycotts and active opposition by the UDF. Results show eighteen seats for the National Peoples Party (NPP), seventeen for Solidarity, one for the Progressive Independent Party (PIP), four for independents.
30 August, Prime Minister Botha declares that the government does not see the low turnout at the poils as invalidating the revised constitution.
31 August, KaNgwane proclaimed a self governing territory.
31 August, South Africa declared the black homeland of KaNgwane on the Swaziland border a self governing territory. The Swazi Council of Chiefs of South Africa, which backs a controversial plan to incorporate KaNgwane into Swaziland, warned of possible bloodshed in the territory if it is granted independence.
September, Mr P.W. Botha was elected the first executive state president in September. 1984-1986.
September – 24 January 1986, From 1 September 1984 to 24 January 1986, 955 people were killed in political violence incidents, 3 658 injured. 25 members of the security forces were killed and 834 injured. There were 3 400 incidents of violence in the Western Cape.
2 September-3 September, The revised Constitution comes into effect.
3 September, As South Africa’s new Constitution was inaugurated at least 26 people died in riots and police counterattacks in black townships, according to press and news agency reports. Reuter reported that the military has been brought in to guard Government buildings in Sharpeville and other black townships.
3 September, 175 people were killed in political violence incidents. On September 3 violence erupted in the Vaal Triangle, within a few days 31 people were killed.
5 September, P.W. Botha is unanimously elected to the post of Executive President by an Electoral College composed of the majority parties in each house fifty NP members of the white House of Assembly, twentyfive Labour Party members of the Coloured House of Representatives, and thirteen National People’s Party members of the Indian House of Delegates.
10 September, Fresh detention orders were issued for seven opponents of the South African Government freed by a court on Friday. The seven, including Archie Gumede, President of the two million strong anti apartheid United Democratic Front, had been held without charge since just before the controversial elections to a new Parliament in August.
11 September, Following unrest and rioting in the townships, the Minister of Law and Order prohibits all meetings of more than two persons, discussing politics or which is in protest against or in support or in memorium of anything, until 30 September 1984. The ban extends to certain areas in all four provinces, but is most comprehensive in the Transvaal.
12 September, South African riot police used tear gas and whips in Soweto as unrest continued and a sweeping ban on meetings critical of the Government came into effect. Opposition leaders criticised the ban, saying that the Government appeared to be overreacting to the unrest, in which about 40 people had died in the past fortnight.
13 September, Six political refugees, including the President of the United Democratic Front (UDF) seek refuge in the British consulate in Durban, and ask the British government to intervene on their behalf.
13 September, Six South African dissidents hunted by police in a big security clampdown today entered the British Consulate in Durban, British officials said. Police had been trying to rearrest the six, leaders of the United Democratic Front and the natal Indian Congress, following their release from detention last Friday on the orders of a judge. Major military manoeuvres were conducted by the South African Defence Force in its biggest exercise since World War II, which, the Times contends in a separate article, will surely be interpreted by the neighbouring States as a show of hostile preparedness. The exercise seemed to illustrate the successes and the failures of South Africa’s efforts to circumvent the international arms embargo imposed in 1977, the paper adds, noting that Western military specialists were impressed by the manoeuvres.
14 September, The inauguration of the new President, P.W. Botha, takes place. Under the revised Constitution, the post of President combines the ceremonial duties of Head of State with the executive functions of Prime Minister. Mr. Botha is also chairman of the Cabinet, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and controls the National Intelligence Service which includes the Secretariat of the State Security Council.
Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister, gives an assurance that the six refugees will not be required to leave the consulate against their will, but also states that Britain will not become involved in negotiations between the fugitives and the South African government.
15 September, Members of a new Cabinet responsible for general affairs of government and three Ministers’ Councils are appointed and sworn in on 17 September 1984.
The leader of the Labour Party, the Reverend H.J. (Allan) Hendrikse and A. Rajbansi of the NPP are appointed to the Cabinet as Chairmen of the Ministers’ Councils, but neither is given a ministerial portfolio.
17 September, Over the weekend, South Africa’s new President, Pieter W. Botha, announced the appointment of a Cabinet which, for the first time in South Africa’s history, includes non-whites.
The two non-white Cabinet members, the Reverend Allan Hendrickse, leader of the Labour Party, and Amichand Rajbansi, whose National People’s Party is drawn from the Indian community, were sworn into office in Cape Town, along with the other members of the new 19 man Cabinet for General Affairs, which is otherwise all white.
18 September, South Africa’s black gold miners today called off their first legal strike, which lasted just one day but, according to mine owners, saw 250 workers injured during police action against pickets.
19 September, Riot police firing birdshot, tear gas and rubber bullets clashed with 8,000 striking gold miners, killing seven and injuring 89, police said today.
24 September, Minister of Foreign Affairs, ‘Pik’ Botha, announces that in retaliation for the British government’s refusal to give up the six men, the government will not return to Britain four South Africans due to face charges of having contravened British customs and excise regulations, and believed to be employed by ARMSCOR.
25 September, South Africa and the UK faced what could be their worst diplomatic crisis for several years because of tension over six dissidents hiding from police in the British Consulate in Durban. Pretoria said last night that in retaliation for London’s refusal to evict the fugitives it would not send four South African back to Britain to stand trial on charges of illegal export of arms.
26 September, Five of the political detainees are released and on the same day the banning order on Dr. Beyers Naudé is lifted.
Schools reopen, but 93,000 pupils continue to boycott classes.
28 September, South Africa was told by IAEA to open all nuclear plants to international inspection or face sanctions by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The resolution was passed by 57 votes to 10, with 23 abstentions. The US and other Western nations opposed it. The resolution was tabled by Morocco on behalf of African States.
2 October, The death toll in rioting and clashes with police has risen to over sixty.
2 October, The Government took into custody the leader of South Africa’s most prominent anti-apartheid group and held him under security law. The arrest came as four blacks were killed in a day of unrest in black townships raising to at least 61 the number of people killed in the past month in ethnic violence and 130,000 black students boycotted classes.
This is an incredibly powerful performance.
Performances took place 24 – 30 April 2015, presented by Autograph ABP at Rivington Place, London. Presented in two parts, seven evening performances in the gallery followed by a seven-week exhibition, ‘Whip it Good’ retraces the footsteps of colonialism and maps the contemporary reverberations of the triangular slave trade via a series of performances that will result in a body of new ‘action’ paintings.
During each performance, the artist radically transforms the whip – a potent sign and signifier of violence against the enslaved body – into a contemporary painting tool, evoking within both the spectators and the participants the physical and visceral brutality of the transatlantic slave trade. Deep black charcoal is rubbed into the whip, directed at a large-scale white canvas, and – following the artist’s initial ritual – offered to members of the audience to complete the painting.
However, the themes that emerge from Whip It Good trace beyond those of slavery: Ehlers’ actions powerfully disrupt historical relationships between agency and control in the contemporary. The ensuing ‘whipped’ canvases become transformative bearers of the historical legacy of imperial violence, and through a controversial artistic act re-awaken critical debates surrounding gender, race and power within artistic production. What the process generates for the artist, is an intensely focused space in which to make new work as part of a cathartic collaborative process.
Read Chandra Frank’s review of the performance, which also took place in Gallery Momo in South Africa, HERE.
An honest song about the violence of white fear, and sadly just as relevant as ever.
This is so often a problem, as I see it: that white people, particularly men, tend not to seek to understand other points of view before feeling entitled to give theirs. If listening feels hard, maybe you need to do it more.
The grossness of WASP hegemony… this band just GOT it. Hearing them in my teens in South Africa was truly a godsend.
Here’s a thought piece I wrote for an MPhil African Studies class back in April, in the thick of the Rhodes Must Fall resistance. I want to put it here to archive it.
Problematising the Study Of Africa Assignment:
On Colonial Legacies at the University of Cape Town
“Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life.” — Cecil John Rhodes
“[N]o matter what a white man does, the colour of his skin—his passport to privilege—will always put him miles ahead of the black man. Thus in the ultimate analysis no white person can escape being part of the oppressor camp.” — Bantu Stephen Biko
“For the black man there is only one destiny, and it is white.” — Frantz Fanon
As a child, I remember reading about the railway Cecil John Rhodes envisioned from Cape Town to Cairo, and never imagining it in any light other than as a benevolent feat of engineering that would link people to others, bringing access to resources and the rest of the modern world for those cut off from Western civilisation, literally bringing light to the darkest parts of the continent.
I revised my romantic understanding of Rhodes’ expansionist desires as I became aware of the rampantly exploitative nature of these ambitions, and colonial mechanisms of dominion and exploitation more generally, but it was not until the recent events at UCT surrounding a statue of the man on campus that I realised the true psychological extent and durability of this oppressive colonial legacy, and the way its violence has been rendered almost invisible to those of us on the privileged side of what Walter Mignolo terms the “colonial difference” or divide.
The call for transformation is not new: it stretches back more than two decades. The present moment is notable in that students, staff and workers have organised powerfully in concert. A bucket of human excrement thrown on a statue of Rhodes that occupied a central position on UCT’s upper campus escalated tensions around institutional racism that have flared regularly since even before the formal end of the Apartheid era 21 years ago. Black students formed a movement that became known as “Rhodes Must Fall” (RMF) after the social media hashtag they used to mobilise. The students occupied an administrative building for several weeks, in which they held intensive teach-ins and discussions around decolonisation in solidarity with the Students’ Representative Council (SRC), other students, academic staff and workers. University management eventually capitulated to the removal of the statue on 9 April 2015, after a month-long struggle in which RMF demanded to be engaged on their own terms, rather than allowing university management to dictate the terms or to dismiss the protest as had been the case on many previous occasions.
Richard Pithouse describes the mobilisation thus:
The students in Cape Town have, very rapidly, punched a gaping hole into the continuum of English liberal hegemony over the university, and a set of linked sites of a certain kind of elite power, and, thereby, a mode of white supremacy and coloniality that has not been subject to sufficient critique and opposition. It is an extraordinary political achievement that will, no doubt, inscribe itself into the history of the South African academy, and the wider society.
At this historically significant moment, it is on white liberal hegemony and institutional transformation at UCT that I reflect: how has hegemonic whiteness been constructed at UCT, and how does the university continue to function as a colonial space, despite speaking about transformation?
I have made several false starts on this assignment (one of which has been losing an entire day’s work on it due to a computer glitch). Initially my idea was to write an open letter to university management, particularly the deputy Vice-Chancellor with the portfolio for transformation, Crain Soudien, whose public behaviour over the past weeks – both in his capacity as a member of university management and in his written statements in the press – has seemed at odds with his historically professed radical stance against uninterrogated hegemony, and his advocacy of deep transformation as chair of the country-wide Ministerial inquiry into institutional racism just a few years ago. Soudien, and other prominent black members of the corporate, academic establishment such as Jonathan Jansen, are interpellated representatives of their institutions’ ideology, and any hint of activism they once displayed has evaporated.
However, I decided that I could not, in good conscience, from my position as an historical beneficiary of the untransformed system, write such a letter. So, dropping the academic apparatus as prompted by this assignment, I feel I have only enough authority to write from a personal, situated angle in attempt to contextualise the recent Rhodes Must Fall chain of events at UCT, with particular reference to the institution’s persisting coloniality. I cannot assume anything other than my own subject position, as a white, cisgender, heterosexual female, who comes from relative privilege. To do so would be disingenuous, as I have learned a trenchant lesson through listening to what students have been saying these past weeks: despite my best intentions and all the empathy I can muster, I cannot have knowledge of what it is to experience institutional racism.
As a “white” person, I have ancestrally been on the powerful side of the racial divide put in place with the advent of Western colonial activity, and I continue to be identified with that subject position. “Whiteness” is the term used to describe the position of privilege this subjectivity puts me and others like me in.
If there is one thing the Rhodes Must Fall moment has driven home to me, it’s that from my subject position I am unqualified to make authoritative pronouncements regarding the experiences or motives of anyone except myself, regardless of racial identity: it’s obvious that I can’t speak to “black” experience, but the most common “white” responses to RMF have largely made me feel alienated, too.
Two decades of rainbow nation narrative have led to the unreflexive “I don’t see colour” rhetoric becoming the status quo among liberal-thinking white South Africans, as well as black people assimilated to corporate institutional capitalist ideology. This is pernicious in that it obscures the very real, material persistence of different life experiences and oppression based on inherited structural inequalities, stemming from racial discrimination.
Coloniality, the set of dispositions, values and forms of practice set in place in the colonial world, outlives the moment of formal political decolonisation, and carries through beyond it in lasting ways. The white Western self speaks from the site of the universal, as a bearer of modernity and civilisation, situated dynamically inside of linear time and at home in a global, cosmopolitan world. All forms of knowledge produced by the Western self, in other words, are deemed to have universal, rational, historical currency.
In contrast, those selves and forms of knowledge encountered by the Western self that are deemed to be other than the Western self are deemed to be “local”, labelled “indigenous”. An indigenous self or indigenous knowledge is constituted as static, standing outside of history and linear time, and inside of tradition, which becomes the opposed category to modernity. Western, colonial knowledge is framed in binaries, in relation to Western supremacy: the privileged poles of these dyads are whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality, and so forth.
Manichean power relationships instituted on the basis of the colonial apparatus did not end with apartheid in 1994. They persist throughout social interactions, their oppressive dynamics all but invisible to those on the privileged side of such relationships, such as white people and males, due to the hegemonic nature of this framing.
A common criticism I saw levelled at black protesters by white commenters was that things changed with the coming of the democratic dispensation in 1994, and that they should stop “holding on to the past” or “playing the race card” with a “victim mentality”, that they should “move on”. But being cognisant of how the legacy of chronologically past events persists into the present is not the same as “holding on to” the past. Only those who are not experiencing the continuation of structural oppression every day can advocate ignoring or disregarding it, and “moving swiftly on”.
Western knowledge systems condition us not to admit any other perspective to the realm of validity. It thus takes concerted effort from white people to listen and not dismiss other points of view if they are to “click” and be able to acknowledge that the hegemonic “white” point of view is not the only, natural point of view. Recognition of the persisting inequality and oppression of black people generates a sense of discomfort and cognitive dissonance. I have realised through conversations with white people I know, as well as the comments I’ve read on social media, that most are unwilling (or perhaps intellectually unable?) to make this effort. Most who identify as liberal (“colour-blind”, non-racist) do not want to accept that they continue to benefit from this system at the expense of others, and display great defensiveness when confronted with the persistence of structural racism, and white complicity therewith.
The comments I have seen by white people who consider themselves liberal and “non-racial” (strenuously disavowing racism) against protesters have been telling – describing them as “uncivilised”, “uneducated”, “unreasonable”, “backward”, “barbarians”, “savages”, “childish”, “monkeys”: these epithets bear the distinctive, unreflexive tang of colonial binaries, binaries set up in implied counterpoint to the opposite values ostensibly possessed by the hallowed university. These colonial tropes have pervaded media, misrepresenting Rhodes Must Fall as an unthinking, destructive mob, when the reality is that the movement created, in a deliberate and considered way, an autonomous space which has surfaced deep pain, but also fostered constructive discussion and reimaginative work.
Acts of physical protest occur when speech has failed, or is perceived to be inadequate. The act of flinging sewage at the statue of Rhodes went beyond talking, because talking was no longer believed to be a viable option for engaging. For dialogue to happen, there needs to be a willingness to listen communicated clearly. UCT, and whiteness more generally, has historically demonstrated itself to be dismissive, unprepared to engage black students’ and staff’s grievances about structural oppression. UCT even went so far as to criminalise protesters.
Steven Friedman remarks:
It is no accident that the protests are happening on the campuses of English-speaking “liberal” universities, which have long claimed to be victims of racism: it is precisely at those institutions that race is kept alive by denying it. Under apartheid, many English-speaking whites insisted that apartheid was created by Afrikaners alone. The “liberal” English-language universities joined in — they proclaimed their right to teach whatever and whomever they pleased, declaring that discrimination was imposed on them by the state. This smugness ignored the extent to which white English speakers in the professions and business profited from the denial of opportunities to others — and the degree to which they believed that blacks could win acceptance only if they adopted the values of whites. The universities ignored the reality that, when they were allowed to do as they pleased, they limited black student numbers and taught courses that assumed that every South African was white… This shows how deep-rooted the attitudes that underpinned apartheid are — and it points a finger at a form of liberalism that has washed its hands of racism while continuing to practise it…
When democracy arrived, the legal barriers tumbled; deep-rooted beliefs that whites are superior did not. The “liberal” universities now had the right to teach who and what they pleased: they used it to keep alive the racial pecking order in a “colour blind” guise… Whites remain largely in charge — but, because they are “liberal”, they always have a good “nonracial” reason for why this should be so.
Hegemonic white power is not always subtle. UCT management has an historical track record of overt institutional racism too. There are several junctures at which these issues have crystallised blatantly, and I will mention two:
In 1968, the accomplished black anthropologist, Archie Mafeje, was made an offer of employment by UCT, but this offer was rescinded under pressure from the Apartheid government, sparking protests. In 1991, the university again offered Mafeje a position. Although he had by that time, 23 years after the first offer, attained the rank of professor, it offered him only a senior lecturer post, still treating him as a junior academic. UCT apologised to Mafeje for this indignity after his death, naming a room in the Bremner building in his honour. It was no coincidence that this room was made the headquarters of Rhodes Must Fall when they occupied that building, renaming it “Azania House” in symbolic redress.
The so-called “Mamdani Affair” unfolded at UCT in 1996 when eminent Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani, who at that point held the AC Jordan Chair in the Centre for African Studies, challenged the university to place African scholarship at the centre of the curriculum. He compiled a curriculum centred on African scholarship which was met with resistance from the all-white advisory committee, apparently because it did not reflect thinkers well-known enough to the committee – that is, it did not reproduce the established western canon of writing about Africa closely enough. Via a manipulation of administrative processes, the curriculum Mamdani planned was rejected and replaced by one produced by the committee. He was suspended and left UCT soon afterwards for the United States. Nomalanga Mkhize charges that the affair “exposed the ignorance of many prominent, predominantly white South African scholars who, because of their racially privileged positions, had risen up the ranks without having to engage three decades of rigorous post-independence African scholarship.”
Black students and academics are angry. Twenty years since the formal end of apartheid, they are still treated as second-class citizens on campus. Only a fraction of teaching staff are black, and the syllabus overwhelmingly represents the perspectives of white thinkers. Black thinkers continue to be marginalised. The disciplines are still, overwhelmingly, epistemologically “white”. Francis Nyamnjoh, writing in 2012, describes the insidious outcome of this:
In Africa, the colonial conquest of Africans – body, mind and soul – has led to real or attempted epistemicide – the decimation or near complete killing and replacement of endogenous epistemologies with the epistemological paradigm of the conqueror. The result has been education through schools and other formal institutions of learning in Africa largely as a process of making infinite concessions to the outside – mainly the western world. Such education has tended to emphasize mimicry over creativity, and the idea that little worth learning about, even by Africans, can come from Africa. It champions static dichotomies and boundedness of cultural worlds and knowledge systems. It privileges teleology and analogy over creative negotiation by Africans of the multiple encounters, influences and perspectives evident throughout their continent. It thus impoverishes the complex realities of those it attracts or represses as students.
A statement by UCT’s Student Representative Council, made at a meeting the day the statue was removed, echoes the points made above:
[T]he black folk’s problem is still chiefly the potency of whiteness. In the new democratic dispensation, we have only been concerned with the ‘rainbow nation’ rhetoric and singing kumbaya while our economy still reflects the same socio-economic disparities of the apartheid era. Democracy has granted a few blacks seats at the master’s table; the rest are still fighting over breadcrumbs falling off the table. And it is these few and mostly politically connected ‘privileged’ blacks who assist their white masters in maintaining the status quo.
Whites have not even begun to see blacks as equals and as being capable of thinking for themselves. They continually want to have a say in how we break the shackles of oppression administered and maintained by them. They cry foul as soon as blacks start organising and speaking for themselves. Deep down they understand that they stand to lose their privileges. The white liberal has continued to play a rather peculiar role in the oppression of the black masses, his racist and conservative ways continue to be shielded in his subtle and ‘angelic’ approach. It is the white liberal who is at the forefront of spreading the gospel of integration and a peaceful society. White liberals point towards white conservatives as the problem, and they have convinced themselves that they have arrived at enlightenment pertaining to the sins committed by their forefathers. Yet subconsciously they share the same set of values and desire to protect their privileges.
The ideology and culture of formerly ‘whites only’ spaces has still not changed. What has taken place is that blacks can now access those spaces of learning and living in order to immerse themselves in a western culture. Thus, for the blacks to enjoy the benefits of accessing those places they have to integrate into whiteness. Our integration is nothing but black people assimilating to what is still regarded as righteous, ordained, intelligent, beautiful and angelic whiteness.
Richard Pithouse comments, with hope:
Liberalism has always been fundamentally tied up with the poisonous fantasy of its barbarian other. In 1859 John Stuart Mill, the great philosopher of English liberalism, declared, in his famous essay On Liberty, that “Despotism is a legitimate mode of dealing with barbarians”. The essential logic of actually existing liberalism – freedom for some, despotism for others – was never merely, as they say, academic. In 1887 Rhodes, speaking in parliament in Cape Town echoed these sentiments when he declared that: “we must adopt a system of despotism in our relations with the barbarians of South Africa”.
Yet in 2015, in a society still fundamentally shaped by the historical weight of this idea of freedom for some and despotism for others, a text book for first year politics students, written and prescribed in South African universities, a text book in which not a single African person is presented as a thinker worthy of study, declares that “Most discussions of freedom begin with John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty”.
This sort of academic consensus, which seemed entrenched a few weeks ago, no longer seems to have much of a future. The students have made an intervention of real weight and consequence.
In addressing the necessity of curricular transformation, Harry Garuba writes about the need for a “contrapuntal pedagogy that brings the knowledge of the marginalised to bear on our teaching… The Cecil John Rhodes statue at the centre of the upper campus of UCT may have been physically removed, but what we now need to move is the hegemonic gaze of the Rhodes that is lodged in our ways of thinking… our professional practices as teachers, academics, scholars and students. We need to take a critical look at our everyday routines… In short, we need to remove the Rhodes that lives in our disciplines and the curricula that underpin them.”
Stories about the past do not only tell us where we come from. They also tell us where we belong and where we should be headed: they influence how we understand our present and imagine our future. Statues and memorials intentionally inscribe in space particular stories, effectively fixing in stone a version of the past chosen by those in power.
The spatial symbolic order at UCT is hard evidence of the university’s lack of transformation. The university, stretched across the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak, is a carefully curated memorial landscape that concretises colonial ideologies of power and knowledge: a site of prospect, and temple of rarefied knowledge on the hill. Moving through this space as individuals, we are forced to conduct a conversation with these imperial ideas: they exert their influence on us tangibly, directing our attention. Little has been changed about symbolism on the campus in the past twenty years, save for the additive naming of a few buildings and spaces after black icons: Steve Biko Student’s Union, Cissy Gool Plaza, Madiba Circle.
Dependent on one’s subject position, the power exerted by such spatial and ideological configurations feels more or less oppressive. As white people, we may not give much thought to whether we feel at home or belong in the landscape. Black people, on the contrary, constantly confronted by representations of white triumph at the expense of black lives, feel alienated and suffocated. SRC Chair Ramabina Mohapa said at the 16 March meeting convened by UCT management on Heritage Signage and Symbolism, before walking out with most of the student body present, that black students “can no longer breathe”.
As already discussed, colonial dispositions are not easily apprehended or altered, because they remain hegemonic in wider society, rendering them invisible to those who fall on the privileged side of the colonial divide between those privileged and those not privileged.
However, moments in which the symbolic order is ruptured, like the toppling of the Rhodes statue, provide rare opportunities where the usually obscured hegemony becomes plainly apparent. It is at catalytic moments such as these that spacetime is malleable: contrapuntal conversations become possible, competing epistemologies thinkable; candid self-examination and interventions, too. Perhaps substantive transformation happens more effectively in sudden shifts than gradually.
I would like to close with a trio of comments that I gleaned from my Facebook feed on 10 April 2015, the day after Rhodes’ statue was removed.
We stop mistaking Rhodes for a good white person and we stop believing in white supremacy because everywhere you look you see white people’s statues – it’s almost as though there was no one here when they arrived and they just happened to discover the gold (which, coincidentally, was discovered by a black man). When the statues are gone, we can start asking the important questions like why are there 110 white male South African professors and not a single black female South African professor at UCT – South Africa’s most prestigious university. And questions like why is the curriculum at these universities so Eurocentric in its outlook with scant reflection on Africa and her rich history and her bright future. Without these statues and the prestige and honour bestowed on the founding fathers of white supremacy, the leaders of these institutions will have no choice but to answer those questions truthfully and reflect on those answers. Further, removing these reminders of the fallacy of white supremacy leaves space for black excellence to flourish without having to use the white gaze and its tools of measurement to validate itself.
– Fumbatha May
Watched Rhodes fall last night. I’ve never experienced such an atmosphere of happiness and liberation at UCT – particularly when the students refused to let the old bastard go gracefully but crowned him with a bucket of paint as he rode off into the sunset of empire. For the past few weeks, the students have been teaching the university its most important lesson in decades, and will continue to do so for a long time to come. At last, being at UCT is beginning to feel like being at a real university.
– Carlo Germeshuys
Driving home from work passed the plinth where Rhodes stood. It has a tag sprayed on the neat wood box that is covering the base: ‘C.J. WAS HERE ~>’ There is a black girl in a blue dress leaning up on it, smiling broadly as she chats to a white guy in green shorts who is sitting on the edge of it, swinging his legs as he rummages for something in his bookbag beside him. I swear there is a lighter feeling seeing that figure gone! An invitation to a new conversation.
– Debbie Pryor
These comments convey the general mood on campus well: there is a sense of hope and determination that the symbolic fall of Rhodes’ statue will be followed by deep institutional transformation, sentiments I share.
Africa Network Expert Panel. 2014. Why are there so few black professors in South Africa? The Guardian Africa, 6 October 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/06/south-africa-race-black-professors
Althusser, L. 1971. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)”. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Verso.
Biko, S. 1988. I Write What I Like. London: Heinemann.
Friedman, S. 2015. “The racial denialism of South African liberals”. Rand Daily Mail. 1 April 2015. http://www.rdm.co.za/politics/2015/04/01/the-racial-denialism-of-south-african-liberals
Garuba, H. 2015. “What is an African curriculum?” Mail and Guardian, 17 April 2015 00:00. http://mg.co.za/article/2015-04-17-what-is-an-african-curriculum
Goodrich, A. 2015. “Statue controversies in South Africa – reimagine/recontextualise/replace” April 15, 2015. http://www.syntheticzero.net/2015/04/15/statue-controversies-in-south-africa-reimaginerecontextualisereplace/
Majavu, M. 2015. “Uct and Rhodes: Removing Statues, Dismantling Colonial Legacies”. Equal Times, 30 March 2015. http://www.equaltimes.org/uct-and-rhodes-removing-statues?lang=en#.VTUs9tyUd8E
Mangcu, X. 2015. Danger of ‘rationalist conceit’ in Cape Times, March 25 2015 at 01:52pm. http://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/danger-of-rationalist-conceit-1.1836933
Mangcu, X. 2015. “Assault on idea of academic freedom”. Cape Times,April 14 2015 at 01:44pm. http://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/assault-on-idea-of-academic-freedom-1.1844918.
Mignolo, W. 2002. “The Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Colonial Difference”. The South Atlantic Quarterly 101.1 (2002) 57-96. Duke University Press.
Mkhize, N. 2015. “Anger over Rhodes vindicates Mamdani”. Business Day, 7 April 2015. http://www.bdlive.co.za/opinion/columnists/2015/04/07/anger-over-rhodes-vindicates-mamdani
Moodie, A. 2010.”The Soudien Report: Deny racism at your peril”25 April 2010. University World News, Issue No:121. http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20100424200305969
Mudimbe, V. 1988. The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy and the Order of Knowledge. London: James Curry.
Muller, S. 2014. “Transformation is not UCT’s priority”. Mail and Guardian 21 November 2014. http://mg.co.za/article/2014-11-21-transformation-is-not-ucts-priority
Nyamnjoh, F. 2012. “’Potted Plants in Greenhouses’: A Critical Reflection on the Resilience of Colonial Education in Africa”. Journal of Asian and African Studies. February 15, 2012. doi: 10.1177/0021909611417240.
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Soudien et al. 2008. Report of the Ministerial Committee on Transformation and Social Cohesion and the Elimination of Discrimination in Public Higher Education Institutions. 30 November 2008
Soudien, C. 2015 “UCT stands devoted to debate”. Cape Times, April 14 2015 at 12:43pm. http://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/uct-stands-devoted-to-debate-1.1844882
Wolpe, H. 1995. “The debate on university transformation in South Africa: The case of the University of the Western Cape.” Comparative Education, 31(2): 275 – 292.
 Attributed in “The lottery of life”, The Independent, 5 May 2001.
 From I Write What I Like: Selected Writings by Steve Biko, 1969 – 1972. Heinemann, 1987.
 Introduction to Black Skin, White Masks. Translated by Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press, 1967.
 Mignolo, 2002.
 Pithouse, 2015.
 See, for example, Soudien’s handling of a walkout by the SRC and Rhodes Must Fall during a meeting at UCT on “Heritage, Signage and Symbolism”, 16 March 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NgpJ00M5Ho
 Compare Soudien et al 2008; Alison Moodie’s 2010 interview with Soudien, entitled “The Soudien Report: Deny racism at your peril” and the defensive tone of Soudien 2015.
 Althusser, 1971. Interpellation is the process by which the ideology of an institution constitutes individual subjects’ identities through the process of the institution and its discourses ‘hailing’ them in social interactions.
 I would like to state as an aside that I do not believe it is the place of beneficiaries of structural racism to offer opinions on how transformation would be best effected. I believe white people should make space to listen and take cues from those who are still being squashed by the non-transformation of the society we inhabit as to what to do. Those who encounter the problem have far more authority in this matter. This is difficult for some white people to grasp due to an ingrained sense of entitlement, and the way whiteness and white knowledge regimes still have hegemonic authority. Several have accused me of promoting self-censorship. It is very far from that. As a white person, to make space for black voices at this moment in the way I am advocating is not to disengage from the debate. It is an active decision to be quiet, to listen and reflect, an action based on a recognition that unless we with white voices behave differently, the status quo of the balance of representation being skewed in the favour of white voices will not change materially.
 Friedman, 2015.
 Mkhize, 2015.
 The number of white professors at UCT stands at about 87 per cent, whereas black professors make up only 4 per cent of the professorial complement (Majavu, 2015).
 Nyamnjoh, 2012: 129-130.
 UCT SRC statement delivered by Ramabina Mahapa on 9 April 2015. http://www.uct.ac.za/dailynews/?id=9096
 Garuba, 2015.
 A video of the proceedings can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NgpJ00M5Ho.
For me, the most surprising part of the Rachel Dolezal debacle is how many people, both black and white, see faking black identity as selflessly forsaking one’s privilege.
On the contrary, in places of privilege that are inaccessible to most black people, particularly in contemporary humanities departments steeped in postcolonial critique, blackness has credibility that whites crave. Being able to claim that one has “been there” and experienced marginality trumps white voices who can only speak from second hand information. I’ve met American students at UCT who are as white as I am (and decidedly more privileged), but use the one drop of black or hispanic blood in their veins to reap the special bursaries, grants, opportunities and legitimacy reserved for black voices in humanities departments desperate to prove they are transforming.
Likewise, in South Africa, I can’t even count the number of white friends who lay claim to being African, to move themselves out of the uncomfortable status of hated, oppressive “settler” always on the wrong side of history. That’s not even counting those who confer on themselves “ancient African knowledge” as sangomas, or emphasise that they see themselves not as “white” but as “human” and they don’t “see colour.”
While being black is a cause of suffering for black people, cherrypicked “blackness” is a decided advantage for whites. We’d love nothing more than to deny the past ever happened, and claim that the system isn’t rigged to our advantage but that we deserve this. And we ogle at the rewards we could gain if we could lay our mitts on the credibility, cachet and funding our whiteness disqualifies us from. We’ve all dreamed of being able to have our cake and eat it, like Rachel Dolezal did. That she caved in to this temptation doesn’t make her a hero of non-racism.
This is an adaptation from a still life by someone I’m actually descended from, whose son (or grandson, not sure) came out here as a PA to Simon van der Stel and apparently was the most corrupt, heinous motherfucker you could imagine. It’s very hard to get a straight answer from anyone in my family, but one distant uncle who I chatted to on the phone told me that because he could prove his direct descent he was allowed into the basement of the Rijks Museum where they kept all the family info. He said this guy was so corrupt that he was, individually, the reason for the first slave rebellion at the Cape. So it’s like an actual time warp of history. Except of course when I research when the slave rebellions were, none of the dates tie up. But of course there must be so many of these hideous occurrences which we no longer even know about.
Here’s the painting, by Jacob Jacobsz. De Wet (Jacob de Wet II):